Nearly two years on from the massacre at two Christchurch mosques, a sharp focus remains on Islamophobia in New Zealand.

While Muslims generally experienced widespread love and support in the immediate aftermath of the terror attack, others continued to receive hate.

Some Muslims say while their personal experiences of Islamophobia have been fewer since the attack, there is room for improvement.

Aya Al-Umari vividly recalls what happened 15 years ago.

She was studying at Victoria University in Wellington when her lecturer asked her where she was really from.

"I don't know why he asked me at the time he just said that there was no way that I could pass his paper because it was too technical," she said.

Al-Umari, whose brother Hussein died in the Christchurch terror attack on 15 March 2019, ended up passing the course, despite her lecturer's doubts.

It is one of many examples of racism she and her late brother faced prior to the attack, which was especially bad following the 11 September 2001 attacks.

"That was the time when we experienced true Islamophobia. In school people knew that we were Muslims, [they were] bullying, even people saying, 'you come from the country where you kill people'," Al-Umari said.

But following the Christchurch attack, Al-Umari said there had been greater awareness about Islamophobia and racism.

"Any jokes previously about me being originally foreign, my religion or being Arab, they've all stopped because everybody is aware that this is not okay," Al-Umari said.

Although that does not mean Islamophobia has entirely gone away.

Aya Al-Umari,sister of Hussein who died in the Christchurch terror attack on 15 March 2019.

Aya Al-Umari. Photo: RNZ

Three months ago, Al-Umari and her mother were subject to vile abuse at a Farmers department store in Rangiora, thereby prompting an apology from Waimakariri Mayor Dan Gordon.

She said it was unfortunate that it had taken a terrorist attack to highlight the racism and discrimination in New Zealand.

"It is sad that it has ultimately meant that my brother and 50 the others lost their lives. It really is [sad] but it has shed a lot of light into something that we need to work on," Al-Umari said.

Muslim Association of Canterbury general secretary Ahmed Khan, who witnessed the Christchurch attack, said he too had noticed a decrease in racial abuse towards Muslims following the shooting.

He said before 15 March 2019, the abuse happened on a regular basis.

"Lots of people were staring and making racial comments ... especially towards our elderly group because they're wearing a traditional Afghan clothes," Khan said.

He said despite the situation improving since the attacks, there was still room for improvement.

"Maybe the education will be a good thing to actually teach them the different cultures, religions and everything like this to have respect for each other," Khan said.

Academics: Anecdotal evidence but more research needed

Massey University sociologist professor Paul Spoonley said there were signs that people with anti-Islamic views were beginning to re-emerge, pointing to anecdotal evidence.

"We've seen some examples of that, the attack on one of the victims sisters in a shop and more recently of course there was the police taking action because of threats made against the Christchurch mosques," he said.

He said the terror attack was a real wake up call to New Zealand, but wonders how long the sympathy will last.

"If you look at the survey data prior to 2019, there was a group that was hostile to Muslims, but there was a much larger group that was simply disinterested. And of course the mosque attacks changed all of that but as we move away, the empathy has tended to wane a little," he said.

Spoonley said when the history of the 21st century is re-written, the terror attack will be one of the key events that define New Zealand, both domestically and internationally.

No caption

Dr Mahdis Azarmandi. Photo: Supplied

University of Canterbury school of educational studies and leadership lecturer Dr Mahdis Azarmandi said there were signs that people could look for, to know if people were still showing love and support or whether it was changing.

"I remember last year - and I know that was connected to Covid and lockdown measures, and that was a completely different context than what we thought it would be - but I overheard lots of people who said why is a commemorative event [for the Christchurch attack] important, or can we not just move on," she said.

"I think those comments, even if they are very benign comments, give us an insight into where we are at as a society."

However, Azarmandi said that anecdotal evidence, revealed something crucial in society.

"It is that we don't do enough analytical assessment around experiences of discrimination and racism in particular, so we rely on anecdotal evidence."

She said society must provide more support for research around these questions.